From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, June 22, 2009
JOEY LOGANO SEEMS TO HAVE ACCEPTED HIS LOT IN LIFE WITH an equanimity that belies his tender years. It can be a heavy burden to carry the nickname Sliced Bread (as in "the greatest thing since...") when you're an adenoidal 19-year-old rookie learning to drive perhaps the most unmanageable race car of the modern era on motor sports' most competitive circuit. But Logano doesn't shy away from the hype. Indeed, he features the sobriquet on his website. "What the heck," he says. "I've got a lot more pressure than just that."
The jump to Cup racing means driving a car that's more powerful and far trickier to handle than lower-level rides, and doing it on a new track every week. Logano's ongoing NASCAR education is starting to pay off in improved performance—after finishing outside the top 25 in six of his first seven races, he has run off three top 10s in his last seven starts—but it can still produce uneven results. On the second weekend in June he won the Nationwide race at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday night, then struggled to a 25th-place finish the next afternoon in the Cup race at Michigan. Switching from the Nationwide car to the Cup car, Logano says, is "like going from a Corvette to a tractor trailer."
But while Nationwide success hasn't translated directly to Cup wins, it has helped boost Logano's confidence. Despite skipping two of the 14 Nationwide races so far this year, he ranks fifth in the series standings. Two weeks after his victory on April 11 at Nashville, where he led a race-high 95 laps and beat Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards, Logano earned his first top 10 at the Cup level with a ninth at Talladega. "After Nashville it was like, O.K., I'm not an idiot," he says. "I'm here for a reason."
Helping Logano prove that point is his crew chief at Joe Gibbs Racing, Greg Zipadelli, who won two Cup titles during his decadelong run with Tony Stewart. Ignoring all the ballyhoo that surrounds his young trainee, the methodical and meticulous Zipadelli, 42, has zeroed in on increasing his trainee's comfort at the Cup level. That effort got a boost from back-to-back ninth-place runs in May at Darlington and Charlotte, where, according to Zipadelli, the surfaces provide more grip. "When we went to Texas [on April 5], Joey was hanging on for dear life," he says. "Now he's where at least he feels like he can tell you what he's feeling."
Logano seems well on his way to winning Rookie of the Year honors. (The closest first-year driver, Scott Speed, trails him by more than 400 points.) More important, he appears to be laying a solid foundation for continued improvement. Says Zipadelli, "I think you're a couple of years from seeing how good he really is."